Since I´ve first seen Bugge Wesseltoft play live with his New Conception of Jazz sometimes around 1996 I´ve been a big fan of his enthusiasm and unconventionality on stage and his fresh approach to performing Jazz and merging it with Electronics. I´ve been trying to follow all the releases on his label Jazzland Recordings since then which has become almost impossible over the years since the number of artists and releases have become so many.
This year Jazzland Recordings celebrates its 20th birthday and is releasing more great music than ever before! I took the chance to catch up and talk to Bugge Wesseltoft at the Jazzahead Bremen about the past, present and future of his musical child amongst other things. Listen to what he said and how Jazzland Recordings sounds like in 2016 or read the full interview below.
Happy Birthday Jazzland Recordings!
01 New Conception Of Jazz – Hi Is? (2004)
02 New Conception Of Jazz – Somewhere In Between (1996)
03 Beady Belle – When My Anger Starts To Cry (Moodymann Edit)(2003)
04 Bugge & Friends – Saisir (2015)
05 Tortusa & Eivind Aarset – There´s So Much Static (2016)
06 Moksha – Dui Murti (2016)
07 Jazzland Community – Preparation (2007)
08 New Conception Of Jazz – You Might Say (2016)
09 Stein Urheim & Mari Kvien Brunvoll – That´s What I Do (2015)
10 Hakon Kornstad – Pearlfisher (2011)
11 Bugge Wesseltoft – Yoyk (2007)
Full Interview with Bugge Wesseltoft:
U: We´re facing the 20th anniversary show of Jazzland Records at the Jazzahead this year and we´re very excited to hear a lot of artists from your label tomorrow at the Sendesaal of Radio Bremen. To begin with, why was Jazzland Records started?
B: That´s a good question. In the mid nineties I started to work on my own project which was a mixture of electronic music and Jazz. I was very influenced by electronic music since the eighties and I wanted to fuse it with my jazz background and when I finished the album I didn´t really find a suitable label. I could have released it on different labels but I didn´t find anyone who fitted my music so I decided actually to create my own label because I wanted to feature a mixture of electronic and acoustic music, Jazz and improvised music at that time. We were a scene in Norway doing that stuff, of course Nils Petter Molvaer who´s now very famous, he went to ECM, then there was Eivind Aarset and different people from my scene that were doing this mixture so I thought it would be cool just to start my own label featuring that music.
U: I remember the first record I heard from you was the second album from New Conception of Jazz which was featured by Gilles Peterson on BBC then. Did the “classical” jazz labels turn it down or weren´t interested?
B: I could have released it on one of them, I had different options, but I felt that they didn´t represent the music that we were doing at that time. There weren´t really any labels doing that type of music.
U: I think a whole lot of musicians were really inspired by your approach with New Conception of Jazz at that time.
B: In Norway you mean?
U: In Norway and internationally.
B: I think it was not only me. We were a part of a scene, a European scene, that´s what I felt. So we started to travel in the late nineties and we came to France were we met Eric Truffaz who was doing the same type of music or Julien Lourau, it was a whole bunch of people. The jazz scene in Germany at that time was either kind of very experimental or very mainstream but nothing with electronics so you could say that at least we were maybe a little bit in the forefront of this new scene of music and we were received very well I think. The festivals liked it, the journalists liked it and even the record companies liked somehow that we were representing a different approach to jazz music at that time, not only me but the scene. There was like a nice new wave of european jazz that was coming up at that time and I feel very good to have been a part of that.
U: I know the other artists you talked about but I think the New Conception of Jazz was really at the forefront of what was happening. So many things have evolved since then, not just your Jazzland activities but you have countless different projects now. 20 years is a long time, could you say that there were certain phases for the label, certain periods? How do you perceive this time span now?
B: I mean musically the label has of course also developed because the list of artists has expanded. Now there are also people who are not really doing a mixture of electronics and jazz. Generally, when I look for artists, I look for someone who – especially in live concerts -has that little extra that reaches people somehow or at least reaches me, because you have a lot of amazing, incredible musicians but not everyone, even though they are fantastic, would touch me. So I have to go for a personal thing so if there´s something that feels personal to me then I will go and ask them if they´re interested. So the label has been developing musically and I think the main thing for us has been this incredible possibility of travelling outside of Norway to do concerts, to meet other artists, to create a bigger network of this type of music and I think we´ve been incredibly fortunate and extremely lucky to meet all these fantastic musicians in different places on earth to play and collaborate with. This has been incredible!
U: Until now you had about 100 releases on Jazzland Records and altogether you sold about 1 million copies which is quite a big success story for a jazz label!
B: Yes, it´s insane, I mean for a norwegian jazz label it´s outrageous. I never expected that, you know? I remember when I started the collaboration with Polygram Music I promised to sell at least 10 000 copies in total (laughs)!
U: Would you say that it was constant for the label over the years or were there periods when it was going up and down?
B: There´s peaks of course, for example with my own history of the New Conception of Jazz we reached our peak in 2001 when we released “Moving”, which was the most sold and just before that because Gilles Peterson and others were so supportive we got into this “Ibiza”- and “Café del Mar”-stuff and we really got widely known far outside our range I would say. So there have been peaks but mostly what I believe in is to give artists the chance to come out and present themselves because if there is a difference I would say that all of our artists on Jazzland sound fantastic in a live concert and this is a thing I´m very proud of so for us it´s the most important thing to come and play concerts! That´s how you meet your new audience and that´s how they will find you, in a concert situation, you know?
U: Getting back to the New Conception of Jazz: you played Montreux in 2004, and I think soon afterwards there was this break when you put the New Conception like “on hold” for about ten years, is that right?
B: Yes, I Did. I stopped it because it just didn´t evolve somehow. Also I had some family problems then, I had to kind of stop playing for a while, so I couldn´t keep the band somehow. But now I decided to restart it because of the 20th anniversary. The band is 20 years old and Jazzland is 20 years old so it´s a good time to do something!
U: For sure. Everybody was so excited to hear that new Conception of Jazz is back in effect!
B: Well, that´s cool! (laughs)
U: You took a lot of young musicians into the band?
B: Yes I did, because I think it would not be a point to put out the same musicians. I felt that if it should be a New Concept I would have to bring new people! I met these young musicians, these girls, they´re incredible musicians and I´ve been following them, some of them, for example the drummer is the daughter of one of my best friends, I´ve known her since she was born, and I think they are just fantastic and they play incredible! Also they have bands that will also come out on Jazzland, like Moksha, they´re a part of the New Conception, so it´s a very natural thing to do I think.
U: Then also Tortusa has just released his “Eivind Aarset Collages” which is really amazing and getting so much good feedback. Is the focus of the label now on pushing a lot of young artists?
B: Well, last year we bought back our company from Universal Music so now we control it ourselves again. We were owned by Universal for a lot of years and the first years were fantastic, they did an incredible job for us and they´re the reason that we came out there to play but then they became so big that they didn´t care about people like us. We were under the surface for what they could do, you know? A lot of our new releases weren´t even released. We could have had a release in Norway but then they wouldn ´t release it internationally, that´s why we had to be careful on the releases but now we´re back, we own it ourselves and we made a new agreement with a german company which I´m really looking forward to and now I feel that it´s time to present some new artists again which I think is a big part of me, at least I try to work with young musicians and I think it´s amazing that the world goes on somehow.
U: All of the new releases I saw also have a beautiful artwork as well, like the Bugge & Friends-Album. Plus they´re also numbered as well now, right? What´s the deal with that?
B: It was just a thing to have for collectors that they could have a numbered CD, I think it´s kind of cool, now we make it in a kind of series-artwork so they will fit together, it was just an idea of me to do it like that, also to focus a little bit on the physical release and not just the digital format.
U: Apart from Jazzland you did a lot of stuff with Henrik Schwarz and electronic crossover things, then you also did some solo piano things and so on. What´s coming up in terms of your own activities and what´s your focus on at the moment?
B: Oh, my focus this year is on the New Conception of Jazz of course, we gonna play a lot. The focus is also on the 20th anniversary and of course working with Henrik and Dan Berglund is incredible, but that´s also Jazzland so it´s the same again. We work as much as we can whenever we are free, but they are very busy guys (laughs). Right now I´m even thinking of taking some time off in 2017 if that´s possible (laughs again).
U: But before that we are going to see the 20th anniversary of your label!
B: Yes, we are very happy coming to Berlin for the great XJazz Festival in two weeks and we will play most scandinavian jazz festivals this summer, we will do as much as we can and it really feels good at the moment! I´m proud of the artists and the label right now, I think we have a lot of good stuff!
U: Tomorrow is the big anniversary night at the Sendesaal of Radio Bremen. Have you seen the place already?
B: No I haven´t but everyone told me good things about it.
U: I think that it will be a very special setting. It´s gonna be three concerts, right?
B: Yes, and I think all of the artists are very happy with it. Beady Belle has a new album recorded in New York, it´s very acoustic and it´s done with incredible musicians. Then there´s Hakon Kornstad, he´s just a genius in my opinion. He also did most of the artwork for our label through the years by the way. He´s a prodigy, he´s good at everything he does. He´s a fully educated opera singer which is mixed with his saxophone playing… He´s one of those few people who are very special. And then it´s the New Conception of Jazz with the new, young musicians.
U: We are looking forward very much to that! One last question: you are listening to so much music, what has been a favorite of yours recently?
B: It´s hard to come up with something right now but indeed I listen to a lot of music. You know, when you travel you´re so fortunate so I try to grab some local stuff everywhere I go and listen to it. I´m very curious on the North African and the Mid Eastern scene at the moment. My dream is to go to Cairo this year to visit Islam Chipsy, one of my favorite keyboard players. I think what´s happening in that area, through all the difficulties they have, there´s all this incredible creativity and incredible artistic energy which is very positive. There´s too much focus there on all that bullshit, war and horrible things, but all those young people there are doing fantastic stuff! That´s where we should aim, ey?
U: I have just been discussing this aspect with a friend, that there´s so much negativity going on but people still manage to do positive things despite this or even maybe even because of this.
B: It´s connected of course, pressure also forces creativity, but everywhere I go I meet these people who are doing incredibly cool stuff, if it´s in Casablanca, if it´s in Cairo, I was just in Karachi in Pakistan, there is this collective called “Forever South”, young people doing electronic music, on Soundcloud they have 100 000 listeners, and they are also coming to Berlin in May with the Teichman Brothers and I love that so much because you have that picture of Pakistan as a crazy place and when you go there you meet all these incredible people. That´s where we should focus!
U: Well said. Thanks a lot for the interview, Bugge!